Long before the Downing Street Memos surfaced, a lone whistleblower revealed how intelligence was fixed to justify the invasion of Iraq. Joseph Wilson’s testimony was the first confirmation that the Bush administration had pulled a world-class hoax to market a cakewalk that has turned into the train wreck we now have in Mesopotamia.
Even before Ambassador Wilson emerged from the shadows, anybody remotely familiar with the Middle East was aware that alleged links between Saddam’s regime to Al Qaida were improbable and farfetched. But taking on administration assertions on a matter like clandestine WMD programs was something beyond the capacity of ordinary mortals. Who can argue with an American President who stands up and uses a State of the Union address to claim that "British intelligence has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”? Such a blanket statement came with the implicit guarantee of both the British and American governments and their spy agencies.
How many individuals have the credentials to challenge an American Secretary of State who appears before the United Nations and gives an exact inventory of Iraq’s WMD arsenal -- with pictures and diagrams to support his arguments? It is worth reviewing some of the assertions made by Powell to the world body on February 5, 2003. “Iraq declared 8,500 liters of anthrax, but UNSCOM estimates that Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters. We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories. Ladies and gentlemen, these are sophisticated facilities. For example, they can produce anthrax and botulinum toxin. In fact, they can produce enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people. We know from Iraq's past admissions that it has successfully weaponized not only anthrax, but also other biological agents, including botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and ricin. But Iraq's research efforts did not stop there. Saddam Hussein has investigated dozens of biological agents causing diseases such as gas gangrene, plague, typhus (ph), tetanus, cholera, camelpox and hemorrhagic fever, and he also has the wherewithal to develop smallpox.”
I don’t know about your word processor -- but my spell checker couldn’t recognize 90% of the chemicals mentioned in Powell’s speech. Before the invasion and before the fictional lethal weapons were no where to be found -- the only voices that had the clout to challenge WMD fantasies were senior weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter and Hans Blix. For their efforts, they were publicly vilified and humiliated on a very personal level.
When you think about it, it wasn’t really that difficult for the ideologically delusional neo-con War Party to pull the wool over our collective eyes. Bush and Powell had the distinct advantage of marketing their hoax to a paranoid nation only a year after terrorists armed with plastic box cutters committed a monstrous atrocity on American soil. While most of us still can’t distinguish between an atom and a simple compound, the government had satellites at its disposal and Noble Prize chemists on its pay rolls. It all came down to your gut instincts versus administration claims backed by the CIA and MI5. If you were fooled -- in whole or in part -- you had good company.
Maybe we should all have taken notice that, two years earlier, the same Colin Powell had an entirely different assessment of Iraq’s military capabilities. The Secretary of State was on record as stating that Saddam “has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.” That earlier assertion, and the fact that Saddam was an unlikely ally of Bin Laden, were enough to cast doubts in some minds. But the alarming headlines created an environment that drowned out the few voices calling for reason and restraint. When an impatient George Bush demanded an abrupt end to the UN weapons search -- he got instant support from Tony Blair who warned that Iraq could launch chemical warfare missiles against London on 45 minutes notice. So, not only was Saddam a menace -- he was portrayed as an immediate threat on the verge of scorching the planet with his imaginary WMD stockpiles. Meanwhile in Baghdad, the real Saddam -- narcissistic as ever -- was busy writing a romance novel.
Some very intelligent people were taken in by the WMD hoax. Why wouldn’t they fall for it when Rumsfeld claimed he knew the exact locations of the weapons? On 5/30/2003, Bush emphatically declared that “those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them.” Judith Miller -- embedded with the WMD search teams -- reported she had discovered a ‘smoking gun’ and a ‘silver bullet.’
I’ll be the first to admit that Powell’s speech at the UN created enough doubt in my mind -- even though I was certain that Iraq had no means of delivery, no intention of attacking anybody and no relationship with Al Qaeda. But Colin had figures and photographs and kept saying ‘we know this’ and ‘we know that.’ And he wasn’t even considered a hawk.
Such doubts might help explain why it took Ambassador Joseph Wilson five months to blow the whistle. Even if he was certain that the Niger yellow cake uranium scam was an amateur hoax -- it took him a little longer to reach the conclusion that virtually all the WMD evidence was manufactured in a neo-con lab -- the Pentagon Office of Special Plans. Even General James Conway, the Marine commander who led his troops into battle, was taken in by the WMD scam. “It was a surprise to me then; it remains a surprise to me now, that we have not uncovered weapons. We were simply wrong.” A baffled Conway uttered those words a month before Wilson made his decision to blow the whistle.
When it became evident that Iraq was a WMD free zone -- the administration wrote the whole matter off as an intelligence failure. CIA chief George Tenet resigned, Ahmed Chalabi fell on his sword, and Bush made a public show of shaping up and re-organizing the CIA.
WMDs or no WMDs, everything was moving smoothly along until Joseph Wilson came along and debunked the ‘intelligence failure’ alibi. He told the world what the Downing Street Memos later confirmed -- the intelligence was tailored to make a case for war.
Instead of following up on Wilson’s assertions, the administration and mass media pundits immediately ushered the public into the spin zone. Thanks to Bob Novak, Ambassador Wilson’s credentials became the story. Even now, many pundits continue to debate if he was qualified for the Niger mission. They seem completely oblivious to the fact that Wilson came back with the correct answer -- Iraq was not trying to import yellow cake uranium from Niger. And we now know that he was right on the money when he accused the administration of cooking up the rest of the intelligence. Not only that, but the ambassador also correctly fingered Karl Rove as one of the sources of the leak that exposed his wife as a covert CIA agent. Apparently, Wilson has to get certain credentials tattooed on his head, before getting credit for constantly coming up with the right answers.
A few days after Ambassador Wilson told us exactly what he didn’t find in Africa -- the administration rounded up a posse of media cronies and went into attack mode -- exposing the identity of Valerie Plame and smearing both man and wife.
On balance, the mission to smear Joseph Wilson has been a great success. After diverting our attention away from identifying the men in the shadows who planned and executed the WMD hoax, the Plame games have been stalled in court for two full years. During that time span, the president won a second term thanks to a brilliant ‘trust me’ campaign designed by Karl Rove -- 1,500 dead Americans have been added to the casualty list in Iraq, Tony Blair was re-elected, Iraq’s killing fields have claimed the lives of thousands of innocents, and Shiite theocrats have ascended to power in Baghdad. We have witnessed a Guernica in Fallujah and systematic torture at Abu Ghraib. $200 billion has been squandered on an invasion that has created more terrorists and increased anti-American sentiments across the globe. Oil prices have tripled and American alliances have been frayed.
Yet, to read the editorials and listen to CNN pundits, one would believe that all we have here is a wicked special prosecutor out to muzzle a free press martyr -- Judith Miller, a neo-con insider who collaborated with the architects of the war. This last week, the media has shifted gears and some mass media hacks are now questioning whether Karl Rove deserves a government check.
Now that the Michael Jackson trial is over, a horde of mass media analysts have a little spare time to pour over every last detail of the Plame scandal. Yet, a little scrutiny reveals that these are the same media lads that played a critical role in marketing the WMD hoax. Their new game plan is to drown the public in an ocean of tangential details instead of concentrating on Wilson’s alarming contention that “intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” They want the whole affair to become a replay of the ‘stain on the dress’ to avoid dealing with the ‘stain on the press.’
For the war mongering media establishment, this is a battle to retain institutional credibility. Such a predicament calls for a full spin cycle. Expect an exponential increase in the number of erudite legal scholars and Plame ‘experts’ splitting hairs on whether a crime was committed and if Wilson deserves our trust or our scorn. Prepare yourself for endless lectures on the First Amendment by the high priests of the misinformation industry. Get your tear ducts ready for heart breaking stories about Rove’s miserable childhood. And get out your recipe book to take notes on Judith Miller’s jailhouse diet. By the time the mass media pundits finish soaking your brain in an ocean of inane and irrelevant details -- you will lose interest and pray for more shark attack stories.
The saga on who outed Plame is an important story -- but not half as important as Wilson’s revelations about bogus intelligence. Even as The New York Times and Judith Miller stalled the Plame case in court -- why did the stench of the Niger yellow cake hoax fail to attract other mass media buzzards? Probably for the same reason that they willfully ignored the Downing Street memos -- the media was knee deep in the muck of promoting the WMD hoax.
Creating public support for this war was a massive and sophisticated enterprise that involved the combined efforts of Pentagon insiders, British and American intelligence operatives, well-placed media assets and White House coordination. The government and media resources devoted to marketing this war were massive enough to implement the single most successful propaganda campaign in American history. Even today, a significant minority of Americans continues to believe that Iraqi WMD arsenals have actually been discovered.
Lest we forget, America’s chief rationale for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. At least that was the hook used to ensnare the American public in a web of deceit. And The New York Times, FOX and CNN were right up at the head of the pack making sure the public swallowed hook, line and sinker. The inescapable reality is that the fourth estate was a major force in promoting the invasion of Iraq.
If a full account of the WMD hoax ever became public, it would not only implicate George Bush, Dick Cheney, the neo-con brigades and the many Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress who actively participated in promoting this farce. The entire fourth estate will be in the dock pleading the fifth.
Field Marshal Judith Miller and her publisher Arthur Sulzberger deserve medals for their role as the tip of the spear in the WMD hoax. The neo-con lads at FOX and CNN also deserve proper recognition for their role in this quagmire and for distinguished service in the post war cover-up.
Because this war was a joint venture between the administration and the fourth estate, it is unlikely that we will ever know the full story. When the “paper of record” is involved in a scandal of this magnitude, expect much of the truth to vaporize into thin air. A few large media monopolies effectively end up writing the history books. These commercial enterprises have more at stake than your right to know. Their ‘credibility’ -- one of their major assets -- is at stake. To protect that asset, expect them to lie, obscure vital information and spend fortunes on legal actions to avoid a public inquiry into the role they played in orchestrating the Mess on Potamia.
The only way we can hope to get a full accounting of all the parties involved in pulling the WMD hoax is to get a new “paper of record.” We can and should pin responsibility for this war on Arthur Sulzberger and Judith Miller. Presidents come and go -- but Sulzberger intends to remain to lend a hand with the next hoax and the next war of choice. The fact that Sulzberger’s war mongering publishing company has usurped the privilege of writing the first draft of history should alarm one and all. Sulzberger is a neo-con crook who for ideological reasons and personal profit deliberately misled the nation and beat the drums of war. This shameless propagandist does not have the moral fiber or intellectual integrity to craft the first draft of our history books – especially the chapter on the Iraq war.
If you want to get to the bottom of the WMD hoax -- kill your TV, cancel your cable and avoid Sulzberger publications -- including the Boston Globe. If enough media consumers canceled their subscriptions to Sulzberger’s war mongering rags -- maybe the shareholders in the New York Times Publishing Company will get the message and fire both Arthur and Judith.
The Plame Blame Game by Joshua Frank
Other Articles by Ahmed Amr
Hiding Judith Miller in Jail?